Girl Talk with Heather Stimmler-Hall
Paris-based writer and tour guide Heather Stimmler-Hall really knows her stuff! We talk to the former travel editor and author of the delightfully mischievous Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City.
When did you begin your current career and what was your inspiration?
I’ve always been a writer. I started as a journalist in high school, when I got my first job as the teen correspondent for the Phoenix Gazette in 1993. I’ve been writing about travel in France since 1999, when I was travel editor for the Elle website. I went full-time as a freelance travel writer a year later, writing articles, web content and guidebooks, all on Paris or the French Riviera (where I lived for four years). I didn’t start giving tours until 2004, starting out with large companies such as EF and Backroads before starting my own private tours in 2006. Inspiration? I do enjoy sharing the city I know and love with other people, whether in my writing or by showing them places in person, but I honestly never thought this is where I would end up when I studied journalism and political science. I thought I was going to be a White House correspondent! This is what happens when you “study abroad” for a year . . . your life changes course.
Tell us the idea behind your popular book Naughty Paris.
The idea of a “sexy women’s guide” to Paris isn’t actually new; I wrote many travel articles about Paris for women’s magazines, and many of them were interested in something more upscale, trendy, sexy, and a little daring than what would be found in average travel magazines. I realized there was enough material for an entire guide, and the more I talked about it, the more I realized women of all ages were interested. Still, it took me almost three years to finally get it done!
What drove you to set up your Paris blog?
I created my first Paris website in 1997 and started the Secrets of Paris Newsletter (sent out monthly) in 1999, many years before the word “blog” surfaced. I think it’s great that everyone and their mother (including mine!) has a blog now, but it makes me cringe when people ask me what my “real” job is. This is my job!
What does your favorite day consist of in Paris? Where are the two or three places you must go and the two or three things you must do to make it the perfect day?
A perfect day in Paris probably isn’t that different from a perfect day in Minnesota: when I can sleep in, when the weather is perfect, when I don’t have any looming deadlines, when I can meet up with friends for a picnic and a night out with some good music. Of course, having Paris as the backdrop for all this is what makes it so fabulous to live here, like living on a movie set!
If you were to tell a friend to visit just one museum or gallery in Paris, which would it be, and why?
Ah, this is just like the “what is the best hotel/restaurant/neighborhood in Paris” question. The answer is always the same: it depends. I think the Louvre is great, but I would go mad if I had to spend more than 20 minutes at the Centre Pompidou. Some people feel the opposite is true. The secret to being a good guide is to find out what your clients like. Having said that, I think the Jacquemart-André is totally underrated; I wish more people would go.
Describe what Paris means to you.
I moved here when I was a student 15 years ago, so at this point it’s home to me. Being a writer and guide forces me to step outside of my own life and try and see the city as a visitor, but every corner has so many memories for me, from being a student to getting married to starting my first company . . . I’ve lived in almost every arrondissement in this city!
If you could choose one French saying as your personal credo, what would it be?
“Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire.” [“When the wine is poured, it must be drunk.”] Although I love Miss.Tic’s version, too: “Quand le vain est tiré, il faut le boire.”
What are the best free things to do in Paris?
Paris Plage, the open-air cinema and all of the open-air concerts throughout the year, but especially in summer. I also love visiting the gardens, the free municipal museums, the church concerts and strolling the banks of the Seine. If you like art, there are many vernissages where you can meet the artists, have a glass of wine and perhaps find something fabulous for your apartment.
Who is your own female French icon?
What’s on your iPod and your bedside table right now?
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Anthology: Through the Years on the MP3 player this week, and Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes on the table. But I usually listen to National Public Radio on the Internet while working, and I tend to read mostly magazines and newspapers to keep up on the latest happenings around Paris (my favorite is still the free A Nous Paris magazine in the metro that comes out every Tuesday).
Paris Plage takes place during the summer, when a section of the bank of the Seine gets turned into an artificial beach. The dates this year are July 20 to August 20, 2010. For more info, visit Paris.fr.